Istanbul attacker 'fought for IS in Syria'

3 Jan 2017

The gunman who killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub had fought in Syria for Islamic State jihadists, a report said today, as Turkish authorities intensified their hunt for the attacker. Police released pictures of the suspect who went on the rampage at the plush Reina nightclub on New Year's night, spraying some 120 bullets at terrified guests before slipping away into the night. Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners, mainly from Arab countries, with coffins repatriated overnight to countries including Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State group yesterday claimed the massacre, the first time it has clearly stated being behind a major attack in Turkey.

The government said yesterday that eight people had been detained but media reports said the number had increased to 12 after new detentions in the Anatolian city of Konya. The Dogan news agency said they included a woman suspected of being his wife but gave no further details. The Hurriyet daily said the attacker showed signs of being well trained in the use of arms and had fought in Syria for IS jihadists. Hurriyet's well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said the attacker had been identified, with investigators focusing on the idea he was from Central Asia. Selvi said he had been trained in street fighting in residential areas in Syria and used these techniques in the attack, shooting from the hip rather than as a sniper. The attacker had been "specially selected" to carry out the shooting, he said. According to Hurriyet, just 28 bullets failed to hit a target.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said yesterday that the authorities had obtained fingerprint data about the gunman and expressed hope he would be "speedily" identified. Selvi wrote that the priority now was to detain the assailant and neutralise the cell that apparently backed him, in order to prevent any new attack. "This specially trained terrorist has still not been detained and is still wandering dangerously amongst us," he wrote. He said that an IS strike was also planned in Ankara on New Year's night but that it had been prevented after eight IS suspects were arrested in the capital. There were no further details. Police meanwhile released the first clear images of the attacker, including one taken by security cameras on the night of the attack. Meanwhile a chilling video of the suspect taken near Taksim Square in central Istanbul was released, showing him recording himself with a selfie stick and smiling faintly into the camera.

It was not made immediately clear how the footage had been obtained. Media reports have said the gunman may be from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. (AFP)